Great Leaders Grow (and Shrink) Great Teams


I received an email last week from a leader that I’ve been coaching for the last couple of years. She has a contract employee whom she must decide whether to hire into a career position. She described the employee as competent, but consistently disrespectful, condescending, insulting and rude to her.

The supervisor acknowledged that there are two sides to every story, and there are some questions of personal perception that are worth exploring. But I shared with her these rules of thumb related to recruiting and retaining the right employees and re-assigning the wrong ones.

There are five characteristics (The Five C’s) to look for in choosing and assessing members of your team.

The first and most important is good Character. Do they speak honestly, act with integrity, and treat others with dignity and respect?

Second is Competency. Do they have the skills and qualifications to do the job?

Third is Capacity. Do they have the mental and physical strength to sustain good quality work? Can they learn new things and be developed to grow?

Fourth is Chemistry. Do they work well with you and with their team members?

Fifth is Calling. Do they want to be here and be a contributor to this team, or do they just want a paycheck?

Most great leaders would agree that character is the most important attribute on this list. Competency can be learned, and capacity can be developed in people with some effort from the leader, if the employee has a teachable attitude. But bad character is flat out dangerous! In fact, the most dangerous people on the team are the ones with high competency and bad character, because they have the most potential for doing harm to the team and the mission.

In my opinion, the second most dangerous person on a team is the one who is highly competent but has bad chemistry with the leader or with their teammates. That bad chemistry can do damage to the leaders capacity to lead and to the capacity of the team members to work effectively together.

We don’t always have convenient opportunities to subtract problem employees from our teams, so career transitions are critical opportunities to be intentional about shaping the quality of our teams. Next time you have the opportunity to add or subtract from your team, the Five C’s can be a helpful decision making tool.

For Discussion:

  1. How have you seen bad character or bad chemistry erode the effectiveness of good teams?
  2. What other qualities do you look for in your teammates?


Published by Jay

Jay Pullins has been leading and developing leaders in a variety of settings for over 25 years. He has a diverse background as a military officer, an appointed public official, and executive leader of Alaska’s largest church. Jay is the founder and owner of Anchorage-based Catapult Leadership Solutions, providing expertise in developing the character and competency of leaders in all sectors. A 1989 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, Jay led U.S. and multi-national teams for the U.S. Air Force, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), NORAD, and the Alaska National Guard. He led combat crews as an Air Battle Manager in Operation DESERT STORM, the conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, and counter-drug operations in Central and South America. Jay retired as an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel in 2011. Jay served as Chief of Staff to the Lieutenant Governor, then Special Assistant to the Governor of Alaska. He also served as Executive Pastor of ChangePoint church for five years. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the US Air Force Academy, and a Master’s Degree in Adult Education from the University of Oklahoma. He serves as a consultant and coach to church leaders for 3dMovements, and serves on the Board of Directors for Beyond Borders and the Conflict Resolution Center. Jay and his wife, Sonia, live in Anchorage, Alaska, and have two grown sons.

3 thoughts on “Great Leaders Grow (and Shrink) Great Teams

  1. Great article, Jay; and advice worth keeping/printing/bookmarking.
    As you explained the Five C’s, I recalled several “disasters” I’d witnessed where team members lacked the crucial “C’s” and broke down the team.

  2. Finally got around to reading your write up this evening. I concur, although it’s sometimes a challenge to discern the 5 Cs in all cases, especially when you are limited to phone interviews (which I’ve had to do at times due to budget constraints).

    I remember when I was in Germany the first time, I took over an office that was devastated due the implementation of the five year rule. Prior to that employees stayed on indefinitely.

    I and the two supervisors under me carefully reviewed about 50 resumes for five positions. We ranked them separately then came together to collaborate. Ironically we all ranked the top candidate number one and the rest we racked and stacked until we had the top dozen candidates. We then did phone interviews. Surprisingly we all agreed the top resume candidate also had the best interview, so we were confident of a great employee. We then ranked the rest until we had the top five that we hired, although we questioned whether we should hire the last candidate since he really didn’t have quite the background we were looking for. However, I did like his attitude and decided to take a chance.

    Ironically, after a year, our top candidate turned out to be our worst performer and our fifth candidate turned out to be the best by far. He had a great attitude, willing to take on anything and worked effectively with our customer and other teammates. I had the chance to work with him again a few years later in Afghanistan.

    I’ve often used that story to encourage others when they didn’t get hired for a particular that it doesn’t mean they weren’t the best person for the job.

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